Bakersfield Night Sky - January 1, 2011

Bakersfield Night Sky - January 1, 2011
By Nick Strobel

Happy New Year! One of my new year's resolutions is to plan out my schedule so that I take care of upcoming assignments well in advance without stressing about looming deadlines. I'll get plenty of stress-free sleep with that resolution. Ha, ha. Now to return this astronomer to Earth... I finished my family's Christmas letter at 10 PM on Christmas Eve---not a good sign of things to come. However, I'm going to get this column to the Californian well before my deadline, so I'll take my victories wherever I can get them.

Revelers who stayed up the night would have been able to see a pretty sight of the Waning Crescent Moon below extremely bright Venus low in the east in the pre-dawn hours. For the first part of the month, the early morning sky is more interesting than the evening sky. Although the first chart shows this morning's Waning Crescent Moon position right next to the bright red heart of Scorpius, Antares, the positions of the other objects shown will work for the other pre-dawn mornings in the first part of January. Saturn rises a half hour after midnight in the middle of Virgo. It is high up in the south at sunrise and just a little brighter than Spica, the bright star of Virgo, below Saturn. Venus is visible in the east beginning about 4 AM and it is bright enough to be visible even at sunrise. At that time it will be halfway up in the southeastern sky. Mercury makes a good appearance in the morning sky the first part of January. It will be visible low in the southeast as much as an hour before sunrise for the next two weeks.

Evening observers will have to settle for the bright jewel of Jupiter in the southwest after sunset. At the end of the week, the thin Waxing Crescent Moon will be low in the southwest sky. On January 9th a fatter crescent Moon will be next to Jupiter to the right. Below Jupiter will be the bright star, Fomalhaut. See the second chart below.

Two other noteworthy astronomy events occur this week. On January 3rd, the Earth is closest to the Sun (at perihelion) at 11 AM to be more precise. Yes, we're closest to the Sun during our winter---the colder temperatures at this time of year are due to the shallow angle of sunlight striking our part of the Earth and the short amount of time the Sun is above the horizon. The other event that usually doesn't make the papers (well, except this one, of course) is the peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower. It is expected to peak the evening of January 3rd, but it usually doesn't produce a large number of meteors. Give it a try and bundle up!

Want to see more of the stars at night and save energy? Shield your lights so that the light only goes down toward the ground. Visit the Dark Sky International website for more info.
Nick Strobel
Director of the William M Thomas Planetarium at Bakersfield College
Author of the award-winning website